Brandon Knight should be top-five pick in NBA Draft

Photograph by: Mike Segar, REUTERS

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Kentucky coach John Calipari says there wasn’t much to discuss about whether Brandon Knight should declare early for the NBA Draft after just one year of college.

"You’re going to put your name in the draft," Calipari told Knight, noting he’d likely be a top-six pick and possibly as high as No. 3 or 4. "So you don’t have an option."

Several mock drafts predict the Toronto Raptors will select the 6-foot-3 guard, a Coral Springs, Fla., native who starred at Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale, with the fifth overall pick Thursday night. and have Utah taking Knight with the No. 3 pick.

Knight, his family members and his high school coach will be in Newark, New Jersey for the draft. Whenever the 19-year-old walks across the stage, shakes NBA Commissioner David Stern’s hand and receives his new jersey and hat, he’ll be in position to accomplish something rare.

Only five players from Broward or Palm Beach counties have ever been drafted in the first round and gone on to play in at least one NBA game. Mitch Richmond, from Boyd Anderson High, is the highest Broward County native ever drafted — fifth overall by Golden State in 1988.

Otis Thorpe owns that distinction in Palm Beach County. The Lake Worth High grad was selected ninth overall by the Kansas City Kings, who later moved to Sacramento, in 1984.

"This is a kid who dreamed all his life about going to NBA," said David Beckerman, Knight’s coach at Pine Crest, where he was the Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year as a junior and senior. "How many kids dream and have that chance of a dream come true?"

NBA Director of Scouting Ryan Blake says the consensus among general managers is that the best point guards in this year’s draft — not necessarily in this order — are Duke’s Kyrie Irving, who’s expected to be the No. 1 overall pick, Knight, Connecticut’s Kemba Walker and BYU’s Jimmer Fredette.

Other Calipari-coached point guards Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans and John Wall, who like Knight also were one-and-done college players, have had success in the NBA. Blake sees potential in Knight, who averaged 17.3 points and 4.2 assists last season while shooting 42.3 percent, including 37.7 percent from 3-point range.

"I like what he did as a young leader at Kentucky," Blake said, adding that Knight plays hard at both ends of the court. "I like when he made crucial mistakes, the way he bounced back. I like the way he made clutch shots and opportunities for others. You want that in a point guard."

Knight, who once rallied Pine Crest from 11 points down with two and a half minutes left in a state tournament game, hit the game-winning shot against Princeton and Ohio State in the 2011 NCAA Tournament as well as key shots late against North Carolina.

"He’s going to be one of those guys that just keeps getting better and better and all of a sudden you turn around and he’s one of the better players in the league," Calipari said. "If you saw him in Hawaii (at the Maui Invitational), you wouldn’t be saying he’ll be the third or fourth pick in the draft. And then by the time the year is over, that’s what you’re saying.

"Early on, it was a struggle. It really was. But now you’re looking at him and you’re saying, ’Wow, this kid is really special.’ "

One knock on Knight, who has been likened to Jason Terry and Jrue Holiday, is that he’s regarded not as a true point guard, but a combo guard. Blake said "there’s nothing wrong" with that, adding that the league is filled with combo guards these days.

Calipari, a former coach of the New Jersey Nets, said you must be a scorer to be an effective point guard in the NBA today.

"There are no set-up point guards anymore who just come down, bounce it, pass it around, can’t make shots," he said. "The thing that makes you special as a point guard in the NBA is you can score the ball."


(c) 2011, Sun Sentinel.

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